The Dodgers enter 2016 looking for their fourth straight division title, and hopefully, a deep playoff run. Their success this year will not be based on any one particular player or decision made, but instead, by a combination of various factors. Nevertheless, it seems as though the team’s success could hinge on how a few key players perform this year.
There can only be so many Clayton Kershaw’s and Adrian Gonzalez’s on a team. Those consistent players who you know what to expect from, year in and year out. Here, we look at those other kind of players, who you might not know exactly what you’re going to get from. The ones that must step up if the team plans to have any type of success this year. These are the guys that could have a significant role in determining how the Dodgers season will end up. Many like to call these type of players “X-factors.”
Here are five players (or positions/roles) that may be this year’s X-factors:
Scott Kazmir / Kenta Maeda Combo:
Losing Zack Greinke was probably the biggest blow the Dodgers took this off-season. And they couldn’t replace him with any one guy, so the front office decided to go with more overall depth in the rotation. And while depth is great, the fact remains that two pitchers can’t pitch together at one time. Only one of these guys will be taking the mound instead of Greinke every 5th day.
No one expects either Kazmir or Maeda to fill the shoes of Greinke, especially those shoes from last season, where Zack had a career year. Still, both will need to pitch fairly well, and fill the roles that the Dodgers signed them to fill. Can Kazmir stay healthy all year? If so, can he pitch with some of the other #2’s in the division, like Johnny Cueto and Shelby Miller? How will Maeda’s skills transfer from Japan? How durable will he be?
These are key questions that will be answered during the course of the season, and could play a big role in determining how the Dodgers will do in 2016. A productive year from both Kamir and Maeda could help the team go a long way. If they have poor years, however, the Dodgers will be facing an uphill battle to be competitive.
When Puig came up to the Dodgers in the middle of the 2013 season, he took the league by storm. He showcased that 5-tool skill-set that teams rarely see in a player. At only 22, the sky was the limit. He had a decent 2014, although he struggled down the stretch, especially in the playoffs, where he was eventually benched. Then came last season, where Puig dealt with injuries and only played 79 games. He finished with his worse statistical year, and left many wondering if the same young player they saw in 2013 was just an anomaly. His declining numbers, coupled with his off-field issues, had some believing the Dodgers could try to move their young star in the off-season. And there was no shortage of trade rumors.
Whether the Dodgers ever actually intended to, or even entertained the possibility of trading Puig, we’ll probably never know. But it appears they have doubled-down on their faith in him, and believe that he can indeed be a difference-maker in the lineup.
Undoubtedly, he has the potential. But entering his 4th year, Puig will need to start turning that potential into results. No longer can excuses be made for costly mental errors on the field. No longer can he have off-field issues that can be a distraction to the team. And no longer can he continue to bat .255. Puig needs to be a presence in the lineup, and if he does, the Dodgers offense could see a significant boost. If he can’t, and struggles like last year, they could be in for a long season.
It’s hard to put too much pressure on a rookie. I’m not sure the same applies for a sophomore though, which is why Joc Pederson will need to find a way to make some needed improvements to his offensive game this year. A good first half of the year for Pederson in 2015 was completely overshadowed by a very poor 2nd half, as he finished the season hitting .210, with 170 strikeouts.
The Dodgers don’t need Pederson to be a super-star right now, although many still think he has the ability to develop into one. I’m sure the team would be perfectly content for him to cut down on his strikeouts, and perhaps raise his average a bit. He already gets on base at a good rate, hits for some power, and plays great defense. This spring, Pederson is tinkering with changes to his swing and batting stance, which may be the small adjustments needed to refine his offensive game.
If Joc can resemble the player he showed to be in the first half of last year, the Dodgers could be a much improved offensive team. But if his struggles continue this season, it could be a significant hindrance, not only to his development, but also the Dodgers chances to put runs on the scoreboard consistently.